An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

SBEP seagrass scarring pilot helps determine effective boater outreach methods

Sarasota Bay is shallow, and much of it is covered in seagrass. Seagrasses are aquatic flowering plants that grow in meadows teeming with wildlife. These habitats are very important to our economy and fishing industry, and they provide protection from storms. When boaters run too shallow over seagrass beds, they can rip out grasses and cause propeller scars, or prop scars. Florida is the boating capital of the U.S. With over 40,000 boats registered in Sarasota and Manatee counties, it's important that new and experienced boaters are aware of these habitats and know how to avoid damaging them.

In the fall of 2020, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program initiated a seagrass scarring education campaign in Sarasota and Manatee counties. The purpose of this effort was to educate boaters about where seagrasses are in Sarasota Bay, how to avoid scarring them, and what to do in the case of a grounding. To determine the most efficient rollout strategy, a smaller pilot test was done to compare various outreach materials and delivery methods.

With the support of a grant from the Manatee County WCIND, signs and maps were?installed in the spring of 2021 in ten initial locations,?five in?Sarasota County and?five?in Manatee County.?These locations included marinas, boat ramps, boat rental companies, and bait/tackle shops. Several were also chosen due to proximity to seagrass?scarring hot spots, which were?identified?as part of an SBEP-New College project?in 2019.

Flood insurance rates are spiking for many, to account for climate risk

FEMA says its new rates better reflect the risk from more intense and frequent rain and floods. The increase could make housing unaffordable for some in the most flood-prone areas.

The cost of federal flood insurance is rising for millions of homeowners, threatening to make homes in coastal areas unaffordable for many. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says its new rates better reflect flood risk in a warming climate.

There may be few places affected more by the new risk rating system than the Florida Keys, where the average elevation on the chain of islands off Florida's peninsula is just over 3 feet above sea level. Almost all homeowners are required to carry flood insurance if they have a mortgage.

On Big Pine Key, after years of looking for a house she could afford, Amy Tripp and her husband were finally able to buy a home recently. "It was damaged in [Hurricane] Irma," Tripp says. "It was totally gutted and has a new roof."

The high cost of housing has long been a major problem in the Florida Keys, and the couple purchased the home through the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity.

FWC asks lawmakers for $7M to save Florida’s beloved manatees

VOLUSIA COUNTY – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking state lawmakers for more money to help manatees.

Manatee are among Florida's most popular sea creatures. There are tourist parks dedicated to the gentle giants but a lack of food is now challenging an already threatened population.

“We've had 957 manatee deaths this calendar year and due to that east coast event, this is a record level of mortality,” Gil McRae said.

McRae is director of FWC's research institute and spoke this week before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources appropriations subcommittee.

At the meeting, McRae asked for $7 million in 2022.

SWFWMD scheduling prescribed fires in Manatee County, Oct.-Dec.

Setting prescribed fires in controlled settings can reduce the risk of wildfires burning out of control, as many Floridians witnessed during the state’s wildfire emergency in 2017.

That’s why the Southwest Florida Water Management District (District) will be conducting prescribed burns October through December in Manatee County.

Gilley Creek is located between State Road 62 and 64, east of County Road 675. Approximately 300 acres will be burned in small, manageable units.

Some major benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reducing overgrown plants, which decreases the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
  • Promoting the growth of new, diverse plants.
  • Maintaining the character and condition of wildlife habitat.
  • Maintaining access for public recreation.

The District conducts prescribed fires on approximately 30,000 acres each year.

Click here to see aerial footage from a prescribed fire in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve where District land management staff burned 320 acres.

Here’s why red tide could continue to affect Gulf Coast beaches for months

Red tide has persisted for months in what has been an unusually long season for the algae bloom. But we may not even be close to the end of the season.

This has been one of the worst outbreaks of red tide on the Gulf Coast in years.

Scientists say it's hard to pin down the reason, but onshore winds, tides and human activity such as runoff of nutrient-rich stormwater from fertilizers has made the problem worse.

Kate Hubbard, a research scientist at the state's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, says that last fall, we didn't see major blooms until late November.

But red tide got an early start this summer, with dead fish being found throughout Tampa Bay and along the Gulf beaches.

"I think what's atypical this year is that we saw the bloom continue throughout the summer," Hubbard said. "So that doesn't typically happen. Usually, the blooms start in late summer and fall and then they wrap up in winter, spring."

Hubbard doesn't have a prediction on when this latest outbreak might end.

"Fingers crossed, this will follow our typical bloom cycle, that will start to wind down as we descend more into the winter months," she said. "But it's very hard to say with any degree of certainty whether or not that's going to happen and when that's going to happen."

The toxins are not only deadly for marine life, but can affect the respiratory systems of people who go to the beach or live near the water.

Plans to dispose of Piney Point wastewater underground gain momentum

BRADENTON – Plans to build an injection well to dispose of wastewater at Piney Point continue to progress, and crews are ready to begin construction once the state issues a permit.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County officials discussed the proposal with residents at a public meeting Wednesday evening at the Manatee County Central Library. Although many residents cited objections to the plan, the meeting was one of the last steps before DEP can issue final approval.

FWC: Patchy bloom of red tide continues to persist along Florida Gulf Coast

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — The Tampa Bay area has been experiencing a resurgence of the red tide organism across beaches, and recent findings show the patchy blooms are not slowing down.

At the beginning of September, there were no reports of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). However, recent samples collected showed concentrations in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

This week, red tide showed background to high concentrations in 24 samples collected in and offshore of Pinellas County, background to low concentrations in four samples collected in Hillsborough County, background to medium concentrations in 24 samples in Manatee County and background to high concentrations in 27 samples collected in Sarasota County.

Manatee County officials say a Piney Point deep well injection is the least offensive option

Manatee County officials are pushing for approval of a plan to pump hundred of millions of gallons of polluted water from the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

More than 200 million gallons of polluted water flowed from the Piney Point phosphate plant into Tampa Bay earlier this year.

Despite pending legal challenges from several environmental groups, Manatee County officials say they're ready to start pumping the remaining water underground.

Some people say that could eventually pollute the source of the area's drinking water.

But on Wednesday night in Bradenton, County Administrator Scott Hopes said during an informational meeting on the plan that he doubts that will happen. WUSF's Steve Newborn asked Hopes if this is the only plan they are contemplating.

Red tide levels grow in Sarasota and Manatee counties

After dissipating near the end of August, the red tide that has killed marine life and closed beaches is back again.

For nearly 11 months, red tide has lingered off the coast of Southwest Florida, and samples from Monday show that levels are increasing in Sarasota and Manatee counties as winds continue to push the bloom around local waters.

This week, low to medium levels were measured off Anna Maria Island in Manatee County, and medium to high levels of red tide were measured in parts of southern Sarasota County, according to samples by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Environmental Groups suing Manatee County over Piney Point wastewater injection

They intend to prevent the injection of hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted wastewater from the Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

A coalition of environmental groups said Wednesday they will sue Manatee County over its plans to inject polluted water from the Piney Point phosphate plant into the underground aquifer.

The notice comes after county officials said that injecting the water into the lower Floridan aquifer was the best method to remove about 273 million gallons of wastewater remaining in the gypsum stack.

“This risky, shortsighted plan would be a dangerous experiment and set a troubling precedent for how we handle failing phosphogypsum stacks,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

More than 200 million gallons of polluted water flowed into Tampa Bay beginning in late March, after a tear was discovered in one of the stack's liners.

Manatee County commissioners had been scheduled to discuss the injection well at their Tuesday meeting, but the meeting was cancelled.

The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a draft permit on Sept. 1 to Manatee County for the deep well’s construction.

Five environmental advocacy groups are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Tampa Bay Red Tide Study focused on nutrients gets financial backing

Scientists studying how to reduce nutrients that fuel algae blooms in Tampa Bay will soon begin collecting data, and they now have funding to help finance their research.

Members of University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have been partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory for months to prepare their study on nitrogen in rainwater, storm water and wastewater effluent. The goal is to eventually determine which sources are feeding toxic red tide algae blooms in Tampa Bay over the span of two dry seasons and two wet seasons.

Mary Lusk, assistant professor in the Soil and Water Sciences Department at UF, said she thinks this study will help to mitigate harmful algae blooms in the bay.

“Anything that gives us more information about where these nutrients, primarily nitrogen, is coming from, anything that gives us more information about Karenia brevis physiology and growth and how it responds to different sources of nutrients in the urban environment, anything that gives us more knowledge and understanding on that is one step closer,” she said.

The UF team, including PhD student Amanda Muni-Morgan — who's also behind this initiative — will have the responsibility of monitoring storm activity to collect rainfall and storm-water runoff from the streets and sidewalks to analyze at a lab for nitrogen and phosphorous.

Mote will then use those samples to examine nearshore nutrient sources, and the role that they're playing in expanding summer blooms, like the super bloom in Tampa Bay this summer.

“Mary's group are the storm chasers. We're kind of the bloom chasers,” said Cynthia Heil, senior researcher at Mote and director of the Red Tide Institute.

“From a prior study, we know that there's over 13, possibly 14 now if you add Piney Point, nutrient sources for red tides,” she said. “These near-shore inputs are one of them. This is the next step in starting to look a little more closely focus on these near-shore nutrients and start to pull them apart.”

A recent grant of $80,000 from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program will expand the project in three ways, Lusk said.

Red tide experts: latest bloom an example of longer-lasting, stronger blooms

An intense and widespread red tide, that seemed to go away after Hurricane Ida, now stretches from the Panhandle to Charlotte County; and with red tide blooms being stronger than they were just 50 years ago, summer blooms may become more common.

Although red tide (Karenia brevis) season is October to February, blooms are possible during the hotter summer months.

Some scientists say although red tide naturally occurs in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, modern blooms are not natural as they're fed by man-made nutrient sources like farming and urban development.

"They’re more prevalent in the late summer and fall but we’ve had red tide for any month of the year," said Larry Brand, a professor and researcher at the University of Miami. "Some years we get essentially no red tide, although it’s getting more and more rare. And we don’t really understand that."

Red tide returning to Tampa Bay area beaches

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — It has been months since red tide blooms ravaged the Tampa Bay area. And, while the worst seems to be behind us, the harmful algae bloom still is not letting go of some beaches.

Two weeks ago, reports from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) showed zero blooms of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, in samples collected in Manatee and Sarasota County.

Fast forward seven days and traces of red tide returned to both areas. Pinellas County, which saw more than 3.6 million pounds of dead sea life wash along its shores during July's wave of blooms, is also still dealing with the persistent algae bloom. Very low to medium concentrations were found in two samples in Manatee County. Background to medium concentrations were found in three samples in Sarasota County.